Social Host Liability Act Settlement for Girl Injured at Party where Alcohol was Served to Minors

Illinois state senators passed the Drug or Alcohol Impaired Minor Responsibility Act in order to stop underage drinking at the source.

Of course, politicians who pushed the social host liability bill through hoped that it would not have be used, and certainly not as quickly as it did.

Recently, the first lawsuit filed under the social host liability act was settled out of court for $1.625 million, stemming from a personal injury incident that occurred just less a month after the act went into effect.

On October 30, 2004 a 16-year-old Kenosha girl named Melissa Wolkomir was severely injured in a car accident that took place on the way home from a Halloween party. She and three friends, who were all minors at the time of the accident, had driven to the party in the car of one of the girls.

The party was held at a barn in Wadsworth, Wisconsin, hosted by Kelly's on 41 Equestrian Center and Patch 22 Ltd., a company that provides equipment and services for hay rides.

Like many parties held around major holidays, alcohol was served. Kegs of beer were available to guests as they enjoyed the hay rides and other amenities of the outdoor venue.

However, no identification was required at the party to prove age. According to the owners, the girls were not invited guests. The 23-year-old boyfriend of one of the girls played guitar in a band performing at the party.

When the foursome left the party at 11:30 PM that night, driver Angela Curtis allegedly made an illegal turn north on U.S. Highway 41. The car was hit by a semi truck, and Wolkomir was flung out of the backseat of the car. None of the other girls, nor the driver of the semi truck, were injured in the accident.

Curtis drank two beers at the party, and was found to have a blood alcohol content of .08 percent, which is right at the legal limit for DUI in the state of Illinois. She was ticketed for driving under the influence and pleaded guilty.

Depositions by the girls later revealed that they had brought vodka to the party, and mixed it with Mountain Dew.

Wolkomir and her family filed the suit in Lake County Circuit Court in Waukegan in order to recover damages for serious neurological injuries that occurred in the accident. Due to the permanent injuries, Wolkomir has only restricted use of her left leg and arm.

The settlement was for $1 million from Kelly's and $625,000 from Patch 22. The owner of Kelly's acknowledged that the $1 million was the maximum amount in the center's insurance policy.

Both businesses remained open after the incident, though Kelly's has changed its policies on parties, no longer holding adult parties to avoid similar circumstances in the future.

The Drug or Alcohol Impaired Minor Responsibility Act is similar to Dram Shop liability laws that hold bars and other businesses that serve beer liable for death or injury to third-parties, if the person who was intoxicated and served at the establishment is visibly intoxicated or a minor.

The Illinois dram shop laws can hold these establishments liable if the defendant can provide proof of sale of alcohol to the patron; injuries sustained by the patron; proximate cause between the alcohol sale and intoxication; and that intoxication was at least one cause of third-party damages.

The social host liability act, however, also provides legal recourse for persons under age 18 who are injured by an impairment that was caused by the unlawful consumption of alcohol beverages or illegal drugs. This is the provision of the bill that held Kelly's on 41 and Patch 22 responsible for Curtis' actions that harmed Wolkomir.

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